was the first platinum record album awarded in 1969?

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FIRST PLATINUM RECORD ALBUM? Ask the question that makes up the title of this article on Google and you will find more than 7,000,000 entries (most of them offering something for sale). The answer you will invariably encounter will be the Eagles/Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 album from 1976—except that is not the correct answer.

When looking up just about anything about popular music and pop records (and this includes record sales and awards), the majority of internet “writers” know little to nothing about the topic when they begin (except whatever they remember from the radio when they were teenagers) and know even less about how to research the topic.

What was the first album to receive a platinum record award? Well, it wasn’t the Eagles.

Most of them do their “research” by apparently referring almost exclusively to Wikipedia—which is an absurdly untrustworthy source for facts about pop music—or to other websites that refer to Wikipedia as an expert source. Another site that is filled with confusing “data” is the RIAA website.

So, back to the question, “What was the first album to receive a platinum record award?” The first I heard of a “platinum record award” was probably in 1969 or 1970 and involved two artists on Atlantic Records’ subsidiary imprint Atco Records: 

•  Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (Atco SD-33-250)
•  Cream’s Wheels Of Fire (Atco SD-2-700).

I was an avid reader of pop/rock magazines such as Crawdaddy and Rolling Stone and I also paged through Billboard, Cash Box, Record World, and Variety each week. It is probably safe to assume that one or more of these mentioned the platinum records.

The original title of this article was “What Was The First Platinum Record Album?” A subsequent article .

 

First platinum record album: front cover of Iron Butterfly's In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida LP from 1968.

IronButterfly InnaGaddaDaVida LP original label 800
Atco SD-33-250, Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, was released in June 1968. First pressings of the record used the purple and orange labels. Later in the year, Atco switched to an all-yellow label.

First platinum record album

One of the best websites for information on gold and platinum record awards is Honor Music Awards. There, Jim Greenwood states that the first physical platinum record award was for the Iron Butterfly album (minor editorial changes were made): 

IN-A-GADDA-DA-VIDA was given the distinction of being the first album to be awarded platinum status. On this first platinum award (from late 1969 or 1970), the presentation plate says to commemorate the sale of 2,000,000 dollars worth [of albums sold]. not the 1,000,000 copies that became the requirement for RIAA platinum when they were first officially recognized in 1976.

The plate on the plaque reads:

This Platinum Record Is Presented to
[recipient’s name]
to Commemorate the Sale of
2,000,000 Dollars Worth of
the Atco Records
Long Playing Record Album
In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida

Given a list price of $4.99 for a stereo LP at the time, that would indicate sales of 1,333,000 LPs. (This album does not appear to have been released commercially in mono so I did not figure any of them into the amount.)

 

Cream WheelsOfFire US RIAA 800
Cream’s Wheels Of Fire was released at the same time as In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida in June 1968. Cream catapulted to #1 and became the biggest-selling two-record album in history! It kept that prestigious position for about six months and then The Beatles (aka The White Album) was released.

Wheels Of Fire

Albums with two records of new material were not common in pop music. In rock music, there had only been a few through 1968, notably Bob Dylan’s BLONDE ON BLONDE and the Mothers Of Invention’s FREAK OUT, both from 1966. So Cream’s WHEELS OF FIRE reaching #1 on the Billboard best-selling LPs chart was a big deal, as was its selling about half a million copies in the US out the door.

WHEELS OF FIRE is generally recognized as the first double-album to reach platinum status. As “platinum” status in the ’60s referred exclusively to dollars earned and not copies/units sold, it would have had to sell approximately 666,000 units with a suggested lit price of $9.98 to qualify for the $2,000,000 level. 

As the original album came with deluxe packaging—the jacket was covered in a thin silver foil, which was both amazing and outrageous at the time (and a whole lot of fun to buy and take home and pull out of the shrinkwrap)—it may have also had a corresponding deluxe price ($10.98? $12.98?). If so, then it would have had to sell a slightly lower amount to meet the $2,000,000 mark.

 

IronButterfly InnaGaddaDaVida RIAA Gold award 600
This is the “official” Gold Record Award from the RIAA for sales of $1,000,000 worth of Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida album at the wholesale end. It was presented in December 1968. Note the record on the plaque has the yellow Atco label, which went into use in late 1968.

Many albums were “platinum”

Many albums had sold $2,000,000 wholesale in the US before 1968. These included:

•  several popular movie soundtracks
•  several Elvis albums
•  most of Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass’ albums
•  most of the Beatles albums
•  the first four albums by the Monkees

Other albums that sold in humongous amounts include novelty records (Vaughn Meader’s comedy album about President John Kennedy, THE FIRST FAMILY, is supposed to have sold millions) and commemorative albums (several tribute albums released in the wake of the assassination of President Kennedy were also sold countless copies).

And, if you lived through the ’60s, it seemed like Bill Cosby’s albums could be found in every house in the country!

 

IronButterfly InnaGaddaDaVida 45 advertisement 800
In July 1968, Atco released a shortened version of the title song In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida as a single. While it reached #30 on Billboard, it pooped out at #57 on Cash Box.

Prominent massive-sellers

There were several prominent massive-sellers before the Iron Butterfly album, such as MEET THE BEATLES. Released in January 1964, this album approached 5,000,000 sales (approximately $7,000,000) by the end of 1965, a mind-blowing figure for a pop album at the time. 

Released in April 1965, Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass’ WHIPPED CREAM & OTHER DELIGHTS supposedly sold more than 4,000,000 copies (approximately $6,000,000) within a year of its release. (Although it is currently listed by the RIAA with a mere “0.5 million” sales because the owners of A&M Records never pursued further certification.)

Both THE MONKEES (1966) and MORE OF THE MONKEES (1967) sold about 5,000,000 copies each (approximately $7,000,000) within a year of release.

All of these albums sold more than IN-A-GADDA-DA-VIDA.

None of them received platinum record awards before IN-A-GADDA-DA-VIDA.

 

IronButterfly InnaGaddaDaVida in house platinum award 600
This is the unofficial platinum record award from Atlantic Records for sales of $2,000,000 worth of Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-D-Vida album at the wholesale end. It was presented in 1969 or 1970.

Proprietary vs non-proprietary

It appears that Atlantic/Atco Records invented the term “platinum record” in 1969-1970. It’s possible that the term had been used among record companies prior to this but I could not find any evidence for that. The terms gold record and platinum record are generic and anyone can use them. They are often referred to as in-house awards as they are manufactured through the devices of the record company.

But the terms RIAA Gold Record and RIAA Platinum Recod are proprietary, hence the registration marks (®) you often find accompanying them. That said, IN-A-GADDA-DA-VIDA was certified by the RIAA for a Gold Record Award on December 3, 1968. This was updated to a 4xPlatinum Record Award on January 26, 1993. There have not been any further certifications of this album.

WHEELS OF FIRE was certified by the RIAA for a proprietary Gold Record Award on July 22, 1968. Despite all the brouhaha about its status as the first platinum-selling double-album, it has not been certified by the RIAA for a Platinum Record Award. I could not even find any documentation that Atlantic/Atco had a platinum record award made for this album! 

This does not stop countless writers from making unverifiable statements. For example, one Cream-based website apparently misunderstood the terminology and mixed up a few words: instead of claiming that WHEELS OF FIRE was the first platinum double LP, the writer said that it was “the first double platinum LP.”

What was the first platinum record album?

When published a few weeks ago, the original title of this article was “What Was The First Platinum Record Album?” I changed the title to “Was The First Platinum Record Awarded In 1969?” so that it would complement another article that I just published: “Was The First Platinum Record Awarded In 1968?”

 

IronButterfly InnaGaddaDaVida header 1000

FEATURED IMAGE: The image at the top of this page was cropped from the front cover of Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. The photograph by Stephen Paley shows the band on stage with a fabulous light show as a backdrop. I modified the image from the album cover by blacking out “Stereo” in the upper left corner and the Atco logo in the lower left.

Finally, thanks to Frank Daniels and Daniel (a reader and regular commenter whose last name I do not know) for their research efforts in research and to Bryan Bradley for proofing the final draft of this article.

PS: I loved this album’s cover at first sight in mid-1968 and remain in love with it sixty years later. 

 


 

5 thoughts on “was the first platinum record album awarded in 1969?”

  1. Another great article. 

    Just some info: As per this news photo [https://encrypted-tbn0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcRIyzzhyTu2sJl9jw2ug4jPKSvpJakKW4ZUbw&usqp=CAU] (unsure of original source), In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida was awarded its in-house Platinum Record at the same time as their album Ball got its RIAA Gold Record. According to RIAA, that is July 22, 1969.

    As for other official, pre-1976 Platinum Records, others that appear to have been presented are Led Zeppelin III (released and RIAA Gold in 1970, Atco Platinum in 1971) and Derek and The Dominos’ Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (released in 1970, RIAA Gold in 1971, Atco Platinum in 1971). 

    It also appears that Elton John’s self-titled second album (released in 1970, RIAA Gold in 1971) got a Uni Platinum in 1971. 

    In each case, it was for $2,000,000 dollars in sales.

    There are most likely more.

    (There are also, sadly, latter-day fakes ...)

    Reply
    • Thanks for hunting down the photo and uncovering the date for Iron Butterfly receiving the first know Platinum Record Award.

      I tried to get the photo to show up on your comment but failed, so here it is in my comment:

      ______

      Iron Butterfly.

      ______

      As for the three other Platinum Aards, can you provide links to your sources?

      As for fakes, there are far, far more fakes than real one so whenevr anyone is in the market for an RIAA A award to hang on their wall, it’s always BUYER BEWARE!

      Reply
    • Thanks for finding these, Daniel. 

      Regarding the Led Zeppelin piece: I have never doubted that their albums qualified for platinum status, it’s just that I have never seen a photograph of ant platinum record awrads that Atlantic gave them for those albums prior to the RIAA’s introduction of the “official” Platinum Record Awards in 1976.

      Thanks for finding this 1972 photo of Elton John receiving an in-house platinum record award for his first Uni album:

      Elton John receiving a platinum record award from Uni Records in 1972 for his first album.

      Reply

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